Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fascinating meditation by K-punk on the state of youth today, based (before you scoff) on his greater-proximity-than-most-pontificators through being a teacher at a further education college.... He provocatively diagnoses The Problem in terms of “depressive hedonia” (as opposed to the usual "depressive anhedonia", inability to enjoy anything, spice gone out of life kind of deal requiring prozac* et al). Symptoms of this syndrome ("an inability to do anything else except pursue pleasure") being a binge approach to everything, with the result that kids get locked into an addiction/debt control matrix, and also an aversion to anything that involves difficulty or the non-instantness of gratification/comprehension. The implication of all this perhaps sounding a postpunk-y note of "what we need is a new Puritanism", chiming in with his earlier thoughts on the Zizek dictum that “there is no inherent emancipatory potential in pleasure” and related discussions in Dissensus (that i can't be arsed to track down for just at the moment) about the importance of the more-than-pleasure edge factors in music.**

I'd been thinking on vaguely similar lines recently, about a general relapse of Culture into Pleasure. The line of thought initially prompted by something that struck me as... striking: Trader Joe's--a Whole Foods-style chain of markets with delicious, healthful, incredibly cheap produce (nuts, coffee, wine, etc) plus prepared meals and budget-gourmet stuff (salsas, pasta sauces, etc) -recently opened to much fanfare in New York, and on the opening day there were queues round the block, people waiting hours to be admitted into what is at the end of the day a supermarket! It seemed weird--possibly a sign of the times--that the kind of anticipation/excitement once motivated by the release of an epochal album -- Sgt Pepper’s, or in more recent years the new Radiohead or new Oasis album (when they were at their phoney-Beatlemania peak) would now be motivated by the prospect of organic cashews and Fair Trade Costa Rica coffee.

You can see this--the relapse of Culture into Pleasure--culture-wide, the obsession with restaurants, home make-over shows, consumer magazines like Lucky with their guilt-banishing, just-another-day-in-shopping-paradise vibe.

Then again perhaps the distinction between culture/pleasure is just a Western, crypto-Christian hang-up/hang-over? (I'm sure Momus would have something to say on this subject).

Sorta related to all this, a few years ago, on the way to interviewing David Byrne over lunch for Rip It Up, I teased him that he'd never actually written any songs about “food” and then we talked about how there weren't hardly any songs about food in rock (lots of songs that use food/cooking as metaphors for other things, like sex, or music--but precious few about eating per se... Lou Reed's "Egg Cream" about a disgusting-by-the-sound-of-it New York drink, er... Lee Perry "Roast Fish and Cornbread"... er... you catch my drift )... and I may or not have mentioned my idea that there's something about food that's un-rock'n'roll (citing examples such as Bobby Gillespie, a chronic case of r'n'r if ever there was, who once told me that some days he just forgot to eat) but at any rate we concluded that this relatively lowly status of food was just a WASP thing, and that there were other cultures, especially in the non-West, where food was much closer to the domain of Culture with a big C (as opposed to culture in the folk/ethnological sense obviously).

At any rate, it later occurred to me that Byrne's old mucker Eno is someone whose radicalism is very precisely about taking music right to that edge where Culture becomes "mere" Pleasure (ambient as audio-decor, as perfume), but not quite crossing the line; he systematically removes the edge-factors, seeing himself as a rebel against rebellion. As Geeta points out in this fascinating post (author's tip, though, Geeta, don’t spill too much of the juicy stuff that should be going into your book into yer blog!), Eno is obsessed with cooking and uses culinary metaphors all the time in his public thoughts about music. Gardening, too.

* prozac and all those similar anti-depressant drugs are interesting because while they work on serotonin like Ecstasy does, to elevate mood, they are also like Ecstasy in that they suppress appetite and suppress sex-drive. In other words, as much as these drugs are designed to relieve anhedonia, they also have a kind of in-built anti-hedonic aspect (they create the body-without-organs by suppressing all that relates to being an organism--hunger, sex-drive, need for sleep). Which suggests a connection between feeling purposeful, energised, speedily forward-looking and not indulging the appetites, not wallowing in corporeal satisfactions. C.f. Marijuana, the ultimate "depressive hedonia" drug, it gives you the munchies, enhances sexuality, turns you into a slug of sensuality.

** what is the more-than-pleasure edge factor? Is it simply difficulty, the necessity for exertion, a strenuousness, itself? C.f. the (sub-)Culture/Leisure relapse as it's played out across the history of electronic dance--from the rugged frontier of rave (long journeys required, the possibility of disapointment, a bust; having to urinate in unsavory places, etc) to the pleasure-garden of microhaus/ et al. Or is the M-t-P a kind of in-built unattainability, something that creates a sense of quest? A reaching for something that's beyond reach. Musically encoded in the tilting-into-the-future feel of technorave's rhythms.

Anticipation is so much better...

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